Free gift? China extends influence in Africa with $32M grant for regional HQThe African Union building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was also a gift from China. It cost $200 million to build and was handed over in 2012.
(CNN)China raised eyebrows this month by announcing it will give the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) a $31.6 million grant to build a new headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.
Accepting the grant, the president of ECOWAS, Jean-Claude Brou, thanked China and confirmed the organization's commitment to promoting future ECOWAS-China cooperation. A press release said that Brou called this a mark of goodwill from China. But critics questioned the Asian economic powerhouse's motives for the donation, which positions it at the center of West African politics.African, right, and Chinese workers, left, build railway track sections for the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line in Tsavo, Kenya.Earlier this year, a published report in the French daily, Le Monde, alleged that Beijing spied on the African Union through the computer systems it helped install. Citing anonymous sources, Le Monde reported that data was transferred from the AU systems in Ethiopia to its servers in Shanghai. China's foreign ministry called the Le Monde report "groundless accusations." The AU called the report "baseless.""People will interpret this as a symbolic expression of China's growing presence in Africa," says Ian Taylor, a professor in international relations and African political economics at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. Read More"But the real question is 60 years after independence (for most member states), why does ECOWAS think it's acceptable for a foreign power to build its headquarters?"ECOWAS and the Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs did not respond to CNN's requests for comment.
Why did ECOWAS accept?
ECOWAS was established in 1975 to foster economic integration and collective self-sufficiency in West Africa. Its 15 member states include one of Africa's biggest economies by GDP, Nigeria, causing Taylor and others to ask why ECOWAS isn't self-funding the facility. Had the members split the bill, it would have cost just over $2 million each.Philip Olayoku, project manager at the Abuja-based Information Aid Network, says the official numbers are misleading and many countries in the grouping don't have cash to spare for such projects. "For me, reliance on GDP is the wrong way to determine how well a country's economy is doing," he says. Corruption in many West African governments, he explains, means "funds that are accrued for national growth are often not where they need to be," impairing a country's ability to contribute effectively to bodies such as ECOWAS. Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesBridging cultures – Trade and partnership deals between African countries and China have been steadily increasing in recent years. This summer saw the completion of Morocco's Mohammed VI Bridge, a $72m project built by Chinese development group Cover-Mbec. Hide Caption 1 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesWhatever the weather – Chinese investment is the leading source of infrastructure spending in Africa. Nigeria accounts for the most umbrella imports, with trade worth $39 million in 2014. Hide Caption 2 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesAccess all areas – Trade has become increasingly diverse, as typified by recent deals to export elephants from Zimbabwe to China. President Robert Mugabe's government sold 24 elephants to Chinese zoos in 2015, and despite protests from animal welfare groups, the figure will climb again this year. Hide Caption 3 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesCost of smoking – In addition to elephants, Zimbabwe also exports vast quantities of raw tobacco to China. Sales reached a new peak of $575 million in 2014. In return, China supplies Zimbabwe with telephone equipment worth over $50 million, and a range of construction equipment. Hide Caption 4 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesBen-in disguise – Benin is the leading importer of wigs in Africa, spending $411 million in 2014 on Chinese-made fake hair. The tiny state was also by far the continent's largest buyer of cotton from China, worth $852 million. Hide Caption 5 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesExotic taste – Morocco supported one of the country's most popular habits with tea imports from China worth $211 million in 2014, the most of any African state. Hide Caption 6 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesRight track – Ethiopia supplied its booming construction industry by importing railway track materials worth $60 million in 2014, the highest spend in Africa. Hide Caption 7 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesWealth kick – South Africa was the leading importer of bicycles in 2014, with trade valued at $23 million. Libya followed close behind with $11 million worth of Chinese bikes. Hide Caption 8 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesGoing overboard – Liberia imported ships worth a continent-high $833 million in 2014, in most cases through the famous port of Monrovia. Hide Caption 9 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesTotal coverage – China's scarves have found their largest African market in Egypt, which imported supplies worth $45 million in 2014. The nations also have a healthy exchange of carpets, with multi-million dollar supplies traveling in both directions. Hide Caption 10 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesHoliday homes – A recent report from the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town documented increased Chinese investment in real estate in South Africa and Mauritius, worth around $740 million in the island state since 2005.Hide Caption 11 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesCurtain call – China has also invested heavily in cultural projects across Africa. Theaters have been a priority area, including Senegal's new 1800-seat Grand National in Dakar (pictured), largely funded through Chinese aid. Hide Caption 12 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesStadium diplomacy – 'Stadium diplomacy' has been another feature of Chinese investment, with new arenas in Cameroon, Ghana, and Angola's November 11 stadium in Luanda (pictured).Hide Caption 13 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesMedical aid – Dozens of African hospitals have been built with Chinese funds in recent years. President Xi Jinping inaugurated this hospital and a new university library in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in 2013. Hide Caption 14 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesStrength in unity – The headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was built with $200 million of Chinese state funds. Hide Caption 15 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesTransport upgrades – China's largest commitments in Africa are to infrastructure projects, such as Nigeria's $8.3 billion Lagos-Kano rail line, largely funded through Chinese loans. Hide Caption 16 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesTurning the tide – Ghana has been able to mitigate electricity shortages through the Bui Dam on its Western border, which incorporates a 400-megawatt hydropower plant. The $600 million project was constructed by the Sino Hydro company, supported by Chinese state loans. Hide Caption 17 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesFueling development – China has supplied credit worth over $2 billion to an oil refinery project in Angola, although this has been hit with delays. Hide Caption 18 of 19 Photos: Trillion dollar deals: The China-Africa partnership in picturesRoad less traveled – The 50-kilometer, eight-lane Thika superhighway was built by Chinese state-owned construction firm Wu Yi in 2012, and supported with Chinese funding. Hide Caption 19 of 19Currently, ECOWAS' operations are spread across three buildings in the Nigerian capital, which both Taylor and Olayoku say are "outdated" and not fit for purpose. The China Development Bank Corporation will work with "an ECOWAS designated authority" to "verify records of account payments at regular intervals" throughout the construction process, according to ECOWAS. That foreign supervision is necessary, Taylor says, shows "a general failing of the ECOWAS leadership." "They can't even be bothered to contribute to ECOWAS' budget," he says. In 2016, six nations had outstanding contribution arrears to ECOWAS. "What that means is either the organization will stop working or it will have to rely on foreign donors."
'No such thing as a free gift'
It's not the first time China has constructed buildings at the heart of Sub-Saharan African politics for free. In 2012, it handed over the ultra-modern African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With a price-tag of $200 million, it was China's largest aid construction project since the 1970s. In 2017, China broke ground on a fully-funded $58 million parliament in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo."Obviously, the (ECOWAS) building itself doesn't mean that China is going to extend its influence, but it does send a signal that China is positioning itself as a trusted friend of African presidents," says Taylor. "That influences all sorts of decision making processes … there's no such thing as a free gift."Gambia's President Adama Barrow with China's President Xi Jinping at the end of a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 21, 2017. The two countries re-established diplomatic relations in 2016.While Beijing defends its aid practices on the grounds they are neutral and respect recipient nations' sovereignty, Chinese money is not wholly unpolitical. For example, African nations have long been a battle ground for China and Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, with Beijing providing aid and economic deals to nations which ditch Taipei and recognize the People's Republic of China instead. Today, in Africa, only Burkina Faso and Swaziland officially recognize Taiwan. Furthermore, in 2016 the president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, confirmed that the Communist Party of China (CPC) had agreed to build his ruling All People's Congress party a six-story headquarters in the capital of Freetown.
China becoming an aid power?
As China grows as a world power, its aid programs in general are expanding globally, too. A study published last year by AidData, a research lab at the College of William & Mary, found the size of Chinese aid assistance to be much larger than previously believed.Earlier this month, China announced plans to form an international development cooperation agency to coordinate its global aid program. Previously China had no dedicated agency devoted to foreign aid, despite giving tens of billions of dollars in overseas assistance since 2000. "The Chinese government actually considers the details of its overseas development programs to be a state secret," AidData executive director Brad Parks told CNN.The AidData study found that at least 70% of China's overseas aid was sent to Africa from 2000 to 2014. While the report noted that "Chinese aid substantially improves economic growth," it also deemed the majority of spending less than effective and warned it may undermine Western efforts to use aid to promote democracy and political reform, at a time when the US is pulling back on overseas spending. Giving developing nations buildings designed to help their political institutions prosper is part of that expanded aid program, says Aaron Tesfaye, a professor in political science at William Paterson University, New Jersey.Chinese employees of the new railway which will link Addis Ababa to Djibouti take pictures in front of the Chinese-made Ethiopian trains in Addis Ababa on September 24, 2016."We are now seeing China being a responsible nation, with peacekeeping forces in Darfur and Mali," he says. "So I can see where financing ECOWAS is a step forward in that responsibility."Taylor agrees that in some African nations, such as Ethiopia where China has built a metro in the capital city and connected the land-locked country to the ocean via the Addis-Ababa-Djibouti Railway, as well as built the AU headquarters, most people see Chinese construction projects as "positive.""The cultural power of China in the world today is a reality and something that is being embraced, given its economy cannot be ignored," says Olayoku. "I don't see anything wrong with China building the ECOWAS headquarters, as long as it does not impose its values."CNN's James Griffiths also contributed to this report. Read the Original Article